At over 10,000 feet above sea level, the east side of the Andes mountains in Bolivia is blanketed in lush, green forests. The west side gives way to a naturally arid and often harsh landscape, more closely resembling the surface of Mars.
Hundreds of years ago, someone just like you and me, buried or hid the coin you now hold. Today they are found in stashes in rock fences, old colonial earthen walls and buried in the naked, mysterious landscape. Since the time of Pizarro (1532), stories of mysterious lights marking the location of buried treasure have circulated through rural South and Central America. The locals call them luces del tesoro (“treasure lights”) or luces del denaro (“money lights”). From time to time, when I lived in the Florida Keys and worked on treasure expeditions in Mexico, I would hear stories like these, and see coins found this way.
Virtually uncirculated, these silver Spanish Pillars and Waves cob coins were minted in Potosi, Peru (present day Bolivia) from the early 1600s through 1773 and buried not long after they were minted. Buried in the highly mineralized desert soil above 10,000 feet, locals searched the desolate rural lands on moon-less nights in decades past, in search of eerie glowing lights that hover near the ground. Known in South and Central American lore as Luces del Tesoro, or Luces del Denero ("Money Lights"), they would dig where these lights occurred and discovered coin caches.
A Note on the Pillars and Waves Design: While each coin does not have every detail, the most striking feature is the two upright “pillars” which represent the Pillars of Hercules; the waves below, the Atlantic Ocean. Starting in the 10 o’clock position there is a “P” for Potosi, next is a number for the denomination. Next is the assayer’s initial. The two or three numerals above the center wave are the date. Through the center runs the phrase PLV SVL TRA – “Plus Ultra” – More Beyond the Pillars of Hercules. On the reverse is the crusaders cross, with lions and castles in the four quadrants representing the early Spanish kingdoms of Leon and Castile. Coins minted in the 1700s will have three digits, i.e. 737 for 1737.
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